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Creative Thinking: Don Quixote - The Inconveniences of Learning

The idea that learning can present inconveniences in life brings us closer to the idea that learning is not always comfortable. Perhaps one of the most immediate images this statement brings to mind is the period of time immediately leading up to an important test or examination. Most of us experience a degree of stress and tension during these periods. These are moments in time that are summative, in other words, moments in time in which we will find out if we are ready for what we having working to prepare for.

In Cervantes' Don Quixote I came across an interesting statement that focused on the inconveniences of learning...

For a person to attain an eminent degree in learning costs him time, watching, hunger, nakedness, dizziness in the head, weakness in the stomach, and other inconveniences which are the consequences of these, of which I have already in part made mention.
- Cervantes. Don Quixote [Book IV - Chapter XI: A Continuation of Don Quixote's Curious Discourse On Arms and Learning]

The idea of an eminent degree in learning is, of course, not literally a degree as we think of one today. An eminent degree is not one provided by an institution, but instead one that is attained through life experiences. Cervantes was distinguishing learning as a scholarly or educational enterprise from learning in the "ravages and confusion that attends war." Both a scholar and soldier possess degrees in learning, however, it is the soldier's degree that would be considered an eminent degree in learning.

The costs of an eminent degree in learning are time, watching, as well as physical and mental hardship. Here Cervantes brings the idea of learning into association with suffering, that is, the degree of suffering experienced by a soldier involves life-threatening circumstances in contrast to a scholar that receives an annual income and typical lives a comfortable lifestyle. Setting aside Cervantes humour, there is an underlying truth to this that is still relevant today. That is, we tend to believe that we can contain learning within the expertise of certain institutions and tend not to explore it outside of those institutions. Learning has become an institution, a business, a corporation, and has therefore lost its eminence in our culture.

But the rising gradually to be a good soldier is purchased at all that is required for learning... To what danger can a scholar be reduced equal to that of a soldier...
- Cervantes. Don Quixote [Book IV - Chapter XI: A Continuation of Don Quixote's Curious Discourse On Arms and Learning]

It is obvious to say that the character learning for a scholar compared to a soldier are dramatically different, however, in a rather curious way we often make the assumption that scholars are in some way more expert in learning than most everyone else. It is the question of this scholarly expertise that Cervantes entertains us with by contrasting it with the soldier's experience. In doing so, he attempts to severe traditional assumptions about learning from their institutional grasp.

Besides, it is past all controversy, that what costs us dearest, is, and ought to be, most valued.
- Cervantes. Don Quixote [Book IV - Chapter XI: A Continuation of Don Quixote's Curious Discourse On Arms and Learning]

We should not literally equate learning with suffering, but it is unavoidable that our learning is often elevated in those moments of time that cost us dearest. The value that comes from these moments reflects our own resilience and ability to overcome troubling situations and circumstances. Cervantes contrast of learning as scholarly enterprise and learning as the experience of war serves as a reminder that the idea of learning involves multiple perspectives. In a mythological sense, our efforts in learning turn to Joseph Campbell's pathways to bliss.


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